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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Saturday, November 09, 2013

#2090 - Aub Zam Zam, San Francisco - 3/2/2013

Aub Zam Zam is a happily dark and glowing bar, old enough that it's Persian decor must have seemed exotic rather than kitschy, with a horseshoe-shaped bar, no televisions, and none of the typical, cheesy beer company paraphernalia. It would be a pleasant place to sit for a drink even if you knew nothing in particular about its history. But you can't talk for long about Zam Zam -- or San Francisco bars in general for that matter -- without hearing tales about the legendary Bruno, who ran the place for 50 years, and instantly kicked out hippies, yuppies, and anyone who did not carefully adhere to a very particular set of looks, drink orders and behavior.

Bruno Mooshei died 2000, 13 years before I could make it here. His Assyrian father "Sammy" and his mother immigrated from (what is now) Iran in the early 1920s, and built the Persian Aub Zam Zam Room on Haight Street with the assistance of Syrian architect Jon Oshanna (1). Bruno took over in 1950, and served strictly behind the bar despite the neat tables in front and in a back room, and dressed in white shirt with black tie and vest. Following are some snippets from the stories I ran across:

'For 50 years, Bruno ran the Zam Zam Club with an iron fist.  The bar opened when Bruno opened the bar.  The bar closed when Bruno felt like closing it.  If he did not like you at first sight, you were invited to go down the street to the Gold Cane where he would say, "I think you would like it a lot better down there." If you were accepted to have a drink at his bar, if you were a man your money must be on the bar.  He would only place a napkin in front of a women.  Women were not expected to pay for a drink.  He would ask what you wanted with a glare that said it had better be a Martini.' (greatjoints)

"The joint was founded by Bruno's father in the early forties, and Bruno learned everything he knew from his father.  He only made Gin martinis, because he believed that the Martini was invented with Gin (he's right).  And when you insisted on a Vodka martini, whoosh, out you went.  (Same with ordering a Manhattan with anything but George Dickel). Once, a friend insisted on a Manhattan made with Jack Daniel's. Bruno suggested George Dickel. My friend wanted what he wanted - WHOOSH!  (yelp)

'The other door opens, and in walks a delightful young British couple. Awesome. Not just tourists, but foreign tourists. I was starting to feel my American pride swell within me. People around the bar are starting to smile but are fighting to hide it. We all know that there is no way this couple could run the Martini Nazi Gauntlet successfully. The couple sits next to us and Bruno walks over. The lady gets a napkin and the man, none. “What’ll you have?” Bruno said in his raspy voice. “I’d like to see a cocktail menu.” Said the woman. Bruno turns to the man. “What’ll you have?” “I’d like to see a cocktail menu as well.” The British accent is so dignified. Just adorable! Bruno then turns back to the woman and takes her napkin away. The bar has now stopped drinking. We are all hunched over our drinks. The napkin removal is the sign we’ve been waiting to see. It’s game time. “The bar is closed. We don’t serve your kind here.”'  (crawlingroad)

"Also I miss Bruno, the old owner guy who used to kick everyone out for the most bizarre infractions like ladies ordering a second drink, or if you didn't tip him the 50 cent piece he'd give you for change."  (yelp)

"For decades the place was owned and run by a fellow named Bruno.  Bruno would not serve you if any of the following was the case:
(1) You were not seated at a stool at the bar (yes, the place always had chairs and tables, and you could always sit at them, but you'd never get a drink);
(2) He didn't like the way you looked;
(3) He didn't like the way you talked;
(4) He didn't approve of your drink order;
(5) Any little thing about you rubbed him the wrong way."

'I mean, I always ordered gin martinis (there's no other kind), and I knew not to ask for it dry (because there's no other way), and I never even thought of asking for table service, and I tried hard to keep my voice down.  I tried very hard.  But every other time I went, it was kaputzki for me.  One time, Bruno looked at me and said, I can tell you are a good person, but your voice is too loud, so go.'  (yelp)

"I got bounced once for asking for a few extra olives after the drinks was made."  (yelp)

'We ordered our martinis. Gin. Stirred. Cold. And were sipping. Watching other people get kicked out. I don’t remember who it was Bruno had just kicked out, but I’d had my entire martini, and I was feeling giddy, and I couldn’t help myself: I giggled. “Young lady? What’s so FUNNY?” Bruno turned his short, stout body to me. I was horrified. “I just thought something was funny.” “We don’t LAUGH like that in PUBLIC. You are being VERY RUDE. I have to ask you to LEAVE.” I’d heard him say those lines before, but now they were directed at me. Oh. I could hear my boyfriend-now-husband sucking down his martini next to me, finishing as quickly as he could.'  (jadepark)

'“When his wife died, he just didn’t see the point of offering table service anymore, and Bruno stuck with it,” explained Andrea, Aub Zam Zam’s current bartender. “From then on, if you asked if you could sit there, he just kicked you out.”'  (theskylineview)

"The first time we went in here, the original owner (and only employee) told us to get out when we took seats in the back room. We came over to sit at the bar. We were the only customers. We ordered a vodka martini and a beer. He told us once again to GET OUT, much more forcefully. We pulled it together and each had a gin martini with a twist. The drinks were delightful and were served in beautiful crystal glasses. We befriended the owner and returned many times. We were very careful with our seating and drinks choices thereafter."  (yelp)

"If someone opened the door, especially in daylight, and hesitated before coming in, Bruno would shout: ‘Shut that door, there’s a stench out there. Away with you, barbarian!’"  (lrb)

"Those people, they must be from FREMONT, I'll bet they drink BUD, from CANS."  (yelp)

'Bruno had been known to go up to the circuit breaker at the bar and announce “The bar is closed” and shut off the lights for no reason. I did not witness this myself, but others reported it as a possibility.  (crawlingroad)

"I don't make carnival drinks go to the Gold Cane."  (yelp)

1633 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117 - (415) 861-2545
Est. 1941
Web site: facebook
Reviews: greatjoints - sfgate - yelp - crawlingroad - theskylineview - sfstories - sfgate - sfweekly - nightout - sfweekly - thebigdrinksf - tastingtable - sfbaytripper - blackbook

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